Trumpism & Rajapaksism, Where The Twain Shall Meet By Vishwamithra

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The 2016 United States Presidential Election was the 58th quadrennial Presidential Election, held on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. In what was considered one of the greatest upsets in American history, the Republican ticket of billionaire-businessman Donald Trump and Indiana governor Mike Pence defeated the Democratic ticket of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the United States Senator from Virginia Tim Kaine. After the results were announced, Michael Smith, an ordinary farmer in Iowa, must have settled down at home with a Budweiser with a whole world of expectations and revived nationalistic feel. A businessman, a total outsider to Washington career political universe has attained the helm of the country. 

On 16 November 2019, thirteen thousand kilo meters away, in Sri Lanka’s Presidential elections Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Army, outside the perennial box of politics, was voted into power. Nishantha, a junior executive in the suburbs of Colombo must have celebrated the same way Michael Smith in Iowa celebrated his victory. An outsider has occupied the throne, so to speak.


Each one, Donald Trump and Gotaaya Rajapaksa, had his turn; the hopes, aspirations and dreams were many. Both appealed to the base instincts of man. Racial, ethnic and identity politics was exploited to the hilt. Fear of a shadow and deep state syndrome was calculably applied and the results at the elections revealed a polarized nation trying to grapple with tangible problems. But both administrations were hit by an unannounced guest at their respective thresholds: Covid-19 pandemic. Both leaders, Trump as well as Gotabhaya, applied untraditional and unscientific methods and methodologies in order to overcome the pandemic with no results. America is the sole super power in the world today whilst Sri Lanka is way down the list in terms of per capita income and economic advancement. It’s apples and oranges, to use a cliché.

Donald Trump was soundly defeated at the next election whilst Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to flee from his country, leave alone Presidency.             

One might argue that politics in Sri Lanka is far too dissimilar to American politics. The answer is Yes and No. On the surface the dissimilarities are many, but fundamentally they are very similar to each other. For that matter politics everywhere is the same, cynical, divisive and deceitful. Donald Trump, in fact, did not introduce cynicism, divisiveness or deceit into the Republican Party. He revealed its true interior; his uncouth personal conduct became a characteristic that the extreme Republicans loved to imitate. Trump’s name-calling became a crude weapon in the hands of these extreme elements, whether they were elected Senators or Members of the House of Representatives; and they brandished it quite willfully and readily. They wore that ignominious badge very proudly.


Political crudeness and total absence of decency accompanied Trump wherever he traveled, whether Europe, the United Kingdom or in his own country. Power and power alone dominated his mind and body; politics became a transactional phenomenon and each and every transaction was executed with the sole aim of extracting a win as against loss. This ‘win and lose’ mindset trickled down to his party loyalists and otherwise decent gentlemen and gentlewomen; they adopted politics as their livelihood and life and became brainwashed by this enigmatic syndrome.  Trump, willy nilly built his base around those who began to think that their America, as was known in the previous two and half centuries, white-dominated, unaccommodating of the minorities including Blacks (Afro-Americans) has to be revived and the clichéd slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ lent itself as a dog-whistle to the traditional American living in the rural America, Kentucky, Idaho, North and South Dakota, and so forth. 

The Republican Party, instead of standing for one dedicated to less government, more tax cuts, private sector-orientation and strong and uncompromising foreign policy, became one steadfastly committed to the ‘haves’ as against the ‘have-nots’. The Republican Party, prior to Trump, may have had some of the most reactionary and regressive economic and foreign policies but lack of decency and extremism on immigration were not in their portfolio. Trump added those veneers to the surface of Republicanism. 

However, before the midterm elections on November 8, 2022, this dastardly policy position of the Republican Party was limited to the frontrunner, Donald Trump. With the midterm elections, the Republican Party, via the primaries, managed to introduce some extremely lunatic candidates who tried to even outdo Donald Trump in rhetoric as well as conduct and pronounced policy positions. Trumpism, as a matter of fact, instead of defining and shaping the character and makeup of those candidates, revealed them. The results, as revealed in the midterm elections in America, were disastrous. The Democratic Party defied history and managed to retain the Senate (in fact might improve with a win in Georgia) and suffer marginally in the House of Representatives. But losing the Speakership is a major defeat in a general sense but ending up with only a couple of seats behind the Republicans is remarkable for the Democrats.


Michelle Obama said it in her rhetorical best: ‘I’ve seen firsthand that being President doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are’. Donald Trump showed us why he behaved the way he did as President of the most powerful country in the world and he paid the price for his dishonorable conduct and policy-execution. 

Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya later did the same. The Executive Presidency and the power that was invested in it did not change the Rajapaksas, it revealed them; it revealed their incompetence; it revealed their being not prepared; it revealed their unskillfulness and it revealed their corruption-laden avarice and sheer dishonesty. And both Mahinda and Gotabaya passed this shameful portfolio to their loyalists and lower-level cohorts. They not only looked the other way, they willfully encouraged their henchmen and women to do even better. They did not do this in a void; they performed all this contemptible theatrics amidst a cheering and encouraging crowd of cohorts and henchmen.

That theatre is no more in Sri Lanka. But, instead of a Rajapaksa, we now have a proxy, a proxy whose solitary aim and goal is to throw the attention away from the corruption and nepotism of the Rajapaksas and project an image of a ‘strong man’. Rounding up of unarmed Aragalakaruwos and sending them to prison is not a deed of a ‘strong man’. On the contrary, it reveals the gross inabilities and incompetence of an unwise leader. Whether Ranil Wickremesinghe is being misled in the shorter term by his cohorts and advisors or not, he has an inherent disadvantage in holding the post of President in that he was never elected to this Parliament in the last General Elections. If and when he manages to overcome that preliminary drawback, he might be able to offer something that the people in Sri Lanka might accept, even with some hesitancy. 

Michael in Iowa, United States and Nishantha in the suburbs of Colombo have the same problem, both in character and in substance. Their leaders have failed them. Their leaders have misled them; they have profited at their respective expense. But Iowa is heaven when compared to a suburb in Colombo. At this time of the year, autumn is setting in Iowa. It could be gritting cold after dark; a thick cloud of mist is shrouding the entire neighborhood and traveling in this cold is a challenge even to a wealthy farmer. But his house is well insulated against all cruelties of the climatic variations. But the Colombo suburbs could be cruel to Nishantha, a junior executive in the private sector. The pervasive heat is still upon his shoulders, breast and back; sweat is stymieing an uneasy end of the day.  But the dreams of both Michael’s and Nishantha’s are fundamentally the same. They want their children well fed; they both want their children educated in better than good secondary schools and graduate from a recognized University. Their common goal is inspire their children to reach a level of living that would one day surpass that is being lived by their parents. It is reasonably a hard one to attain in the context of the prevailing global conditions.

Lack of empathy, dismal performance as the chief executive of the country they happened to govern, both Donald Trump and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa have let their countrymen down miserably. Thanks mainly to democratic way of electing their leaders, Americans and Sri Lankans are fortunate that there is time for reckoning for all those who lead. There is a reckoning time for all, whether they represent this party or that party. Common sense against nonsense, decency against obscenity, truth against falsehoods, honesty against treachery, ultimately will have their day. That is the reckoning day. It came to America on November 8, 2022. 

The discomforting reality for Sri Lankans is, after observing the conduct of the current crop of Pohottuwa parliamentarians, if and when that day dawns, to what corner would the average Nishantha be driven to; would he find himself well armed both intellectually and educationally to defy all odds and perform his basic task of electing a better person for governance? It’s not an unreasonable question to ask.

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Disclaimer: Trumpism & Rajapaksism, Where The Twain Shall Meet By Vishwamithra - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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